Evidence of meeting #86 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was community.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Linda Frum  Senator, Ontario, C
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Michael MacPherson
Erin Virgint  Committee Researcher

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

Thank you.

Now, we will move to the NDP round with Ms. Malcolmson.

November 22nd, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the witnesses.

I'm Sheila Malcolmson. I'm a member of Parliament for Nanaimo—Ladysmith. My dad's family was born and I was born in St. Catharines. Our families are close and around the same time. It's an honour to meet you, Senator. Thank you, especially for your very animated personal storytelling. It's a great example of the things to celebrate and about making the personal intervention into legislation, which we don't always remember to do.

The New Democrats support the legislation and thank you both for advancing it. Maybe if I could just head some things off at the pass, is there any impact on the federal government that we should air, to get it on the record and give you an opportunity to rebut?

4:05 p.m.

Senator, Ontario, C

Linda Frum

No. There's no financial implications to this bill whatsoever, nor is it anticipated that there's any federal funding required or expected. This is something that the community itself would take on.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Are there any arguments that you've heard, in any realm, that would cause anybody in Parliament to vote no? Not that I'm recommending that at all, but just for the record I think it's always helpful to give witnesses the opportunity to reveal and rebut.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

On the contrary actually, I think the most wonderful thing about the experience of the senator and I joining together on this particular bill has been doing the outreach to members from the other parties to ensure that there was support. As I stated, working in the Commons with Peter Kent and Randall Garrison, it was great to have that multipartisan support and I think, from the perspective of the senator and I, that was key to our vision for this. This is everybody getting behind something that I think is maybe a little overdue and that we're thrilled to be able to spearhead and move forward.

No. I don't see that there should be any issues whatsoever in terms of any objections. I've certainly heard none at all in either chamber.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

I appreciate the new fact that I've learned from the preamble that the Jewish population in Canada represents the fourth largest Jewish population in the world. Already your legislation is having impact, as far as education. I would not have guessed that.

Can you elaborate more on the impact for Canada, as a country, of knowing that everybody across the country is celebrating at the same time, as opposed to the approach we have right now, where there are different commemorations and celebrations that are more localized than at the regional level?

4:05 p.m.

Senator, Ontario, C

Linda Frum

Right now, it's just Ontario that officially has a Jewish heritage month. It was important to ask that the national month be done in coordination with Ontario's month. It makes sense. There is a large Jewish community in Montreal and in Vancouver as well. There are Jewish communities in almost every major Canadian city. It gives those communities an opportunity to work together and to do something communal across the country. That's a very exciting experience as well.

I'm very involved in the Jewish community and in the Jewish federation in Toronto and we talk about this within our community. We have a national community as well as a local community and that, as the strongest and biggest community, the one that's in Toronto has a responsibility to make sure that the communities across the country are thriving and feel supported for projects like preserving cemeteries. Those are national projects that the national Jewish community has to think about. We have stakeholders all across the country.

Again, this could be a trigger to help us think about this on an annual basis. How can we do things together as a national community?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

I fully agree. I think it may even be an opportunity for some of the larger communities in the country, the bigger cities, to do some outreach to some of the smaller towns, to do some programming. Whether it's some of the arts and community cultural organizations, or some of the larger things like the UJA Federation, B'nai Brith, or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, this could be an opportunity for them to actually spread the message and do programming.

Again, when you have it in one month, it just shines a spotlight in a very positive way. It may be an impetus for these types of events to occur in places that they might not have before. I think it's only a net benefit. I really do. All the feedback that I've had—I think probably similarly to the senator—has all been very positive. I know that we've both been getting emails from the community at large and from other communities and other individuals, just saying that they've seen this and that it's a really positive step forward.

I think it's going to be embraced.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

I appreciate the opportunity for the nation-building aspect of this, so that we know we're all pulling in the same direction.

Starting on Saturday, we're just about to begin the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, which is a United Nations campaign that is very much embraced in Canada. That leads up to and includes the anniversary of the massacre, you might say, at the École polytechnique.

We have good examples of what happens when we're all commemorating at the same time. It kind of combats isolation as well. I appreciate your work.

There's nothing else I have to add. Thanks, Chair.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

Thank you.

We now will go to the next Liberal round, where I gather the time will be carved up among several people, starting with Mr. Virani.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I wanted just to say thank you to both of you for this very important piece of legislation that you've introduced, Senator Frum, and that you've sponsored, Michael. Thank you for acknowledging two titans of the community, one of whom is the president in the back there, Mr. Cotler, and also Justice Abella, whom I've had the honour of appearing before. She is quite a titan.

In terms of personal anecdotes—since she was sharing them so liberally, Michael—a piece of Jewish heritage right in my own riding is that on Maria St., in the Junction, is the oldest synagogue in Ontario, which has a plaque outside of it. This is something that I learned only in terms of representing the community, but there's Jewish heritage everywhere and all around us.

I wanted to address my question briefly to you about something that you raised, Senator Frum, and then I'll turn it over to Dan Ruimy. I invite you both to comment.

You mentioned, Shimon Fogel, I think, in reference to this idea about a heritage month being an opportunity to peel back ignorance. I think that is the phrase you used. You also talked about overcoming suspicion and hostility. That's something that we have definitely heard a lot of. Michael referenced a study we just concluded on systemic racism and discrimination.

We talked a lot about breaking down barriers by improving dialogue. It prompted me to think about interfaith dialogue—having Jewish leaders engage with other leaders of different backgrounds.

Do you see this kind of bill as a springboard to promoting more of that kind of dialogue that is so pivotal to breaking down anti-Semitism and breaking down the types of discrimination that we're seeing right now?

4:10 p.m.

Senator, Ontario, C

Linda Frum

If that were a by-product of this bill, it would obviously be a wonderful thing. I would welcome that. I don't see why that couldn't happen. Again, I am speaking to the outreach that would be associated with having a national Jewish heritage month. It would put the burden on the Jewish community to reach out to other communities to share, to try to interact with other communities, and to make this part of a national celebration, not just a local community celebration.

There is also a big educational component that could be part of this, as well. If we speak about ignorance and hostility, very often those things are born out of isolation, because, as we're acknowledging, there are only 400,000 Jews—I've heard 350,000. There are not very many of us in the country. Of course, there are many communities in Canada where people will grow up and never meet someone of Jewish background. That's not helpful if you want to create understanding.

There is an opportunity, maybe through the educational system where there is no local Jewish community itself, to talk about Jewish culture. If some enlightened teachers wanted to use a Jewish heritage month as a springboard in their communities to talk about the Jewish community, that could promote some interfaith understanding.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Michael.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

I'm going to focus on my own community for a second and talk about York Centre. I'm incredibly proud that under the leadership of four faith leaders, York Centre has established an interfaith dialogue. Rabbi Morrison at Beth Emeth Synagogue was the spearhead from the Jewish community. Working with faith leaders—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—they've now had, I think, three events. I could totally see this interfaith council in York Centre, and I know there are other ones that exist in other parts of the city. Other cities could definitely embrace something like this.

To Senator Frum's point, I think if this were a springboard to more dialogue and better understanding, it would be a fantastic opportunity. We know how important those relationships are. We know the impact they can have on creating education and awareness of issues like anti-Semitism. I think it would be a wonderful outcome if the Canadian Jewish heritage month created a forum for increased interfaith or multi-faith dialogue—100%.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

Thank you both for being here today. I don't have a lot of time, so I'm going to jump right into it.

My parents emigrated from Morocco to Montreal, where I was born and raised. I left Montreal years and years ago, and I moved to a little town, Maple Ridge, with a handful of Jewish people. I've owned a business there for the last six years. I didn't really have any connections to the Jewish community whatsoever. We don't have a Jewish community there.

One thing that happened after I was elected was that a gentleman had come in with an issue, and as he was leaving, he turned and said to me, “Why were you hiding the fact that you're Jewish?”

I said, “Excuse me?”

He said, “What do you think the newspaper would say if I called them up right now and told them you're a Jew?”

For me, that was the very first time that I'd ever encountered something to that extent, and having a month like this.... I mean, honestly, you don't go around shouting, “Hey everybody, I'm Jewish.” I mean, you live in the community that you live in.

Do you see Jewish heritage month as an opportunity to perhaps, for some of us folks, be able to shout out to our community, “Hey, look”? I'd like your thoughts on that.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

I see this month as being a source for great pride for Jewish communities across the country.

MP Ruimy, I think what you're saying is that in a smaller town where there's not a presence or probably an understanding—ignorance comes often from not understanding—it's a tremendous opportunity for Jews. If we can get the UJA equivalent in Vancouver, or some larger organization, to do some outreach into the surrounding communities that maybe don't have an infrastructure or a Jewish presence, I think it's a wonderful opportunity to enlighten and to give Jews in those communities a chance to say, “This is who I am. This is my heritage. This is what I come from. I am proud of it, and I want you to understand it. I want to talk to you about it.”

What better thing could come from that? Absolutely.

4:15 p.m.

Senator, Ontario, C

Linda Frum

I don't know how much time you spend on Twitter. I spend too much time, I'm sure. If you're a Jewish person on Twitter, anti-Semitic attacks are almost a daily experience—really, truly.

I feel like anti-Semitism is part of my daily life. I feel lucky, though, because I am part of a large Jewish community, so I can take solace, comfort, and support from people in my community. If you're in a smaller community, I can see how frightening and intimidating it could be when confronted with the very real problem of anti-Semitism that exists in Canada on a daily basis.

It's making common cause, having a sense of community, and understanding why you should be proud to be Jewish. I do announce it. That's my solution to it. The more people think they might be able to hurt me with it, the more I make it clear to them how proud I am to be who I am, and what I am.

Is Jewish heritage month a helpful vehicle to help promote those feelings? I hope so. If so, it would be a great thing.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Ruimy Liberal Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, BC

I do shout it out now. We did a Shabbat night with the centre in Vancouver. They came out to Maple Ridge, and it was a great night. That's where they first realized, “Oh, wait a minute, you're Jewish?”

It was a fantastic night. I look forward to supporting this in the House.

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

I want to thank you both very much for your evidence today.

I will just make some observations on some of the evidence from my own experience. I grew up in York Mills, where half the community is Jewish, and very much in the shadow of World War II. My family were refugees from Estonia who had a parallel experience. Many of those in my family and my community, the Estonian community from the Soviet gulag, lost their lives there. I was surrounded by kids who had families with similar experiences of the Holocaust, so there was a lot of sharing going on, and a lot in common there.

I heard, with interest, the comments about Rosalie Abella. My grandmother, who largely raised me, was actually a lawyer back in the 1920s in Estonia. She didn't practise here, but her grandmother was a Rosenberg, up the maternal line, and a straight maternal line to me, so you know what that means, at least according to the Lubavitchers, who keep trying to persuade me to put my poor, suffering son into Hebrew school. I'm just trying to get him to learn a bit of French. If I could get that done, that would make me happy.

In any event I've seen great things happen. I had a student staffer formerly with me who was from Saskatoon, and you see another great community there. She was not Jewish at all, but she started a klezmer band in her high school, which continues to this day.

My observation about the value of what you're doing is this. I look back to that time when I was growing up and we were coping with events that were pretty immediate. I've seen a lot of anti-Semitism disappear in the community, and in the communities that I've known since then.

At the same time, in parallel, I've seen new anti-Semitism arise in other places. While some understanding has grown, I've seen things here when we were elected, when the south Lebanon war took place and I was on the foreign affairs committee. Things were said that I thought were unthinkable and that we would never hear after the events of the Holocaust and World War II.

The work needs to be done. It appears that it perhaps never, ever will be complete. That is the way and the fate of the Jewish people, sadly, but this is a positive step towards doing that. I commend you both on bringing this forward, and thank you.

I think that completes our business for today.

Yes, Mr. Vandal.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

I understand that proper notice hasn't been given to study this clause by clause.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

That is correct. There hasn't been notice given—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

I'd like to move a motion that the clerk do all things necessary so that we can do a clause-by-clause review at our next meeting.

(Motion agreed to)

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

I will now entertain a motion for adjournment.

Mr. Vandal.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Before we do that, there is just a bit of committee business to do with M-103.

I understand that the report is going to be presented sometime in December and I think perhaps we could hear from the analyst as to when the report actually will be back for a discussion.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Peter Van Loan

They aren't here. The clerk will respond.